“You can’t be kidnapped by hell and not be harmed."
Holocaust survivor Isaac Jack Trompetter spoke to group of Duxbury High School Holocaust Studies students who visited the Facing History and Ourselves Center in Brookline last Thursday.
Trompetter was born in Nazi-occupied Amsterdam in 1942. At that time, Jews were not permitted to hold prominent positions, were required to wear yellow stars on their clothes and could only purchase food after others had completed their shopping. Trompetter’s father risked his life venturing out to the hospital after the 8 p.m. curfew to see his first-born child. Today, the former curly haired child, stands over 6 feet tall, is bald with gray moustache, smooth skin and a breezy yet somewhat guarded demeanor.
Life for Jews in Amsterdam got even worse in the months following Trompetter’s birth. “Jews were beaten up just for fun and lived in a state of terror,” Tompetter said.
Jews were then forced to go into hiding with families that Trompetter described as “having found the voice of God in their hearts to take in Jews on the run.” He was obviously moved when he described the ordinary people who took great risks to help themselves and others.
Going into hiding was a risky undertaking for both the Jews and those who housed them, for if the Nazis discovered them, death was almost certain. Many families split up in order to improve the chance that at least some members would survive and such was the case with Jack Trompetter. His parents made the wrenching decision to send their three-month-old baby with a relative north of Amsterdam while they moved in with Jan and Cora VanDomburg, a brother and sister who lived in a town south of Amsterdam. To increase the chance of survival, family members often didn’t tell one another where they were going. Love, being more powerful than prudence at times, prompted Trompetter’s mother to send Cora to find baby Jack and make sure he was okay. Cora found him in a place that she felt was not safe, an orphanage adjacent to a Nazi barracks. Cora was fortunate to find an older couple willing to care for the tiny infant. Trompetter’s mother knitted a cap and scarf for him that would serve as a means to identify him in the weeks, months or as it turned out, years that followed before the war was over.
While in hiding, Trompetter’s mother taught Cora how to sew and the two became busy darning worn clothes. The women traded this valuable service for food. While such commerce was strictly forbidden in occupied Holland, the black market allowed many to survive.
At the same time, the DeGroots in the village of Heinote cared for Jack Trompetter on their farm. Trompetter said he has two memories from his time with the DeGroots. He remembers one time being rushed into a closet with his Hobby Horse when visitors came to call. Trompetter also recalls the sounds of distant explosions, perhaps by the British near the end of the war. Being so young, Trompetter hasn’t retained emotions associated with the time, but even to this day, the scent of a farm gives him comfort, something he attributes to living on the DeGroots farm for nearly three years.
Shortly after the liberation on May 8, 1945, Trompetter was reunited with his parents and some other family members. At first the DeGroots didn’t want to give the toddler back to his biological parents and indeed, it was difficult for Trompetter to separate from the only parents he had known. Jack slowly adjusted to his new life, but the early childhood trauma came back to haunt him causing him to have a breakdown not long after the war. It was the DeGroots wish to have young Jack baptised to “protect him in case the Nazis were to regain power,” said Trompetter, but his parents were not comfortable with the idea of having two sets of parents for Jack and chose to cut ties with the DeGroots.
The years following the end of WWII were tough in Holland. Anti-Semitism was worse than it had been before the war. Trompetter remarked that, “When people saw a Jew, they would say, ‘What, the Germans missed you?’” In Holland before the war, there were 140,000 Jews. After the war, there were 20,000. Only 5,000 Jewish children survived, said Trompetter.
After working and saving money, in 1949, Trompetter’s family moved to New Jersey and then to New York, where he grew up in the 1950s. Trompetter’s family raised him and his cousin Andy, who Jack thought was his brother for many years, in a house filled with love. The boys were raised with strong values of work, kindness, respect, and more kindness.
“My parents were heroic to raise me with love despite the fact they knew swine,” Trompetter said.
Trompetter had seen bitterness take over some survivors but his parents chose love. Sadly, that love was not enough to keep the horrors of the past
from clouding his cousin Andy’s life. Andy’s parents (Jack’s aunt and uncle) were killed during the Holocaust and Andy, too, died as a young man in this 30s in part because of the deep scars the war left on him.
In the mid 1980s, Trompetter went back to Holland to see what he could find from his past. It was an uneasy trip for his mother. Trompetter said she felt such strong guilt about giving him up when he was a baby. Trompetter consoled her by saying he knew she did it out of love. His mother would take comfort for a time, only to slip back into feeling terrible guilt. While his parents were uneasy about seeking out the DeGroots, they did accompany their son to Heinote in search of the family farm. Modern highways and progress had erased what was left of that rural area. Even a visit to the local registry provided no information on what became of the couple that lovingly cared for Jack during his first three years of life. So many questions will remain unanswered for Trompetter.
Cora and Jan VanDomburg relocated to New York and were like an aunt and uncle to Trompetter. The two families remained close until the senior Trompetters’ and VanDomburgs’ deaths.
Since childhood, art was an escape for Trompetter, who is an artist by trade. Judaism became an important part of his life through the years, and Trompetter believes that retelling his story is his responsibility to his family and the countless others who cannot.
The high school students were moved by Trompetter’s matter of fact story telling and were glad to bear witness. When a student asked how often Trompetter thinks about the war, he responded, several times a week. He also said, “with trauma, it is always there, but if you are lucky, it doesn’t destroy you.”